Does one bad apple really spoil the barrel?

Blog post


After investing many hours over six months in reading and scoring thought leadership, it somehow seems a little wrong that it takes only a few moments to analyse the scores to see who is ranked where in our latest quality ratings. And much as we’re excited to see the outcome, our hearts sink when we see that one or two firms have taken a tumble in the wrong direction and we know that the shift is due to an “unlucky” sample, rather than any fundamental change in the firm’s approach to thought leadership.

Given this typically happens every time we publish our rankings, should we simply reconsider our approach to random sampling?

Frankly, there are times when we think that we’d love to ask firms to submit their own sample for us to review. For a start, we’d only be reading really good thought leadership which would make the experience much more rewarding. And there is definitely an argument to be made for this approach--that this is the content that the senior executive is most likely to see because it is the content receiving most attention.

However, we believe the value of our random sampling outweighs the benefits of asking firms to submit their own list. Our random sample is more likely to replicate the experience of a typical executive who (according to our research) chooses to read a piece of content because it chimes with an issue or topic they are already considering and not because it has received the most investment. If you are publishing weak content, people may well come across it, and if they do it is likely, like the proverbial bad apple, to colour their view of your firm and its capabilities.

The firms who are consistently near the top of the table--The Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, IBM--have made great strides, through quite different organisational approaches, in reducing or even eliminating this weak content. The senior executive who comes across material from any of these three firms is unlikely to get “unlucky” and much more likely to come away with a very positive view of the consulting firm. This approach--of eliminating or dramatically improving weak content while continuing to push the quality of the very best content--is one we believe in and want to continue promoting through our ratings.

While we see good reason to draw attention to weaker content when helping consulting firms improve the impact of their thought leadership, we take a very different approach when interacting with the executives they wish to impress. In front of this audience, we focus on the best of the best--promoting examples on our public White Space home page, and through our new thought leadership service for senior executives (more about this next time). We’re currently featuring Accenture’s Cracking the gender code, A.T. Kearney’s Egypt (cautiously back in business), and Deloitte’s Rx CX. There is nothing random about this selection so if you would like us to consider your piece, please do get in touch.